CBS’ Thalia Assuras did a piece for “The Early Show” this morning concerning the domestic spying controversy (video link to follow). In it, she exclusively presented the views of Democrat members of Congress as well as a “legal scholar” who believes this program is illegal. Yet, she chose to not question any Republicans concerning this issue, or bring on a constitutional attorney with an opposing view. As a result, she presented a segment wherein Democrats and detractors of this program were seen countering each videotaped position the president made during his press conference yesterday. This gave the appearance that the president is on an island with nobody in Congress or in the legal community willing to defend this newly revealed covert program.
The first Democrat shown was Robert Byrd of West Virginia demonstrating on the floor of the House: “What is the president thinking? What is the president thinking?” Then, she showed Russ Feingold of Wisconsin: “We will not tolerate a president who believes that he is the sole decision-maker when it comes to the policies that this country should have in the war against terror and the policies we should have to protect the rights of completely innocent Americans.”
Finally, Carl Levin of Michigan: “He can't just simply use the necessity to move quickly as an excuse to bypass the law which we put in place, which is the true check on the executive power. The laws that Congress passed.”
Mixed in between was David Cole of Georgetown University Law Center: “I think their opinion is ludicrous.”
Once again, not one Republican or legal scholar with a contrary position was interviewed. In addition, there was no mention that this program is only used for international calls involving a known al Qaeda representative, or that the Clinton administration employed a similar program that Assuras’s own network reported on in February 2000 in a “60 Minutes” installment.
What follows is a full transcript of this report, and a video link.
Russ Mitchell: President Bush has a controversial program that allows eavesdropping on phone calls inside the U.S. is legal and necessary to fight terrorism. CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras is live at the White House with more. Thalia, good morning.
Assuras: Good morning, Russ. Well, the administration is aggressively defending those warrantless wiretaps against Americans but the White House continues to face harsh criticism especially about the program's legality.
Bush: One: I’ve got the authority to do this.
Assuras: The president defended the secret wiretap as constitutional and allowable under powers approved by congress after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
Byrd: What is the president thinking? What is the president thinking?
Assuras: Senators on both sides are demanding hearings. But Democrats further charge that Mr. Bush has no legal foot to stand on and has skirted congress to make laws that suit his agenda.
Feingold: We will not tolerate a president who believes that he is the sole decision-maker when it comes to the policies that this country should have in the war against terror and the policies we should have to protect the rights of completely innocent Americans.
Assuras: Many legal scholars also argue the program is illegal.
David Cole, Georgetown University Law Center: I think their opinion is ludicrous. I think Congress expressly addressed whether the president can do this during wartime and they said, yes, but only for 15 days in an emergency situation. The president has now done it for four years.
Assuras: Mr. Bush angrily dismissed charges he acted above the law.
Bush: To say unchecked power basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject.
Assuras: He also claimed the program was the best way to quickly acquire information against suspected terrorists.
Bush: People are changing phone numbers and phone calls and they’re moving quick. We’ve got to be able to detect and prevent -- I keep saying that, but this is a, it requires quick action.
Assuras: Democrats aren't buying that, arguing instead that FISA, the surveillance law in place since 1978 requiring court approval of domestic wiretaps is sufficient.
Levin: He can't just simply use the necessity to move quickly as an excuse to bypass the law which we put in place, which is the true check on the executive power. The laws that Congress passed.
Assuras: But the president seems to be aiming for public approval rather than satisfying members of Congress, denouncing those who expose the program and claiming the revelation puts Americans at risk.
Bush: It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.
Assuras: Mr. Bush also took aim at senators who blocked renewal of the patriot act last week, saying it was inexcusable to remove tools in the war against terror. But opponents say they just want to work out some details before passing anything. Russ.